Kick Ass Girls and Feminist Boys

26 Oct

Today Ms. Magazine‘s Fall 2010 issue hits the newsstands with an article by Jessica Stites called “Kick-Ass Girls & Feminist Boys: Young Adult Fiction Offers Fabulous Fantasies of How the World Should Be”. Stites refers to the books that “offer refuge or escape” from the all-to-common, “ill-fitting and maddening” gender roles, as “click lit” (i.e. books that offer that “click! moment, when we realize the problem’s not us, it’s society, and we’re not alone”). The article recognizes the growing popularity of YA both with readers and with publishers (market growth during a recession? not bad, right?). Anyway, here are our initial reactions to the article. Feel free to check out the magazine and see for yourself!

Nora: Overall the article addresses some great points, such as the fact that girls want to read about cool girls, and that a lot of YA fiction deals with real and relatable feminist protagonists.  The author even manages to stay away from Twilight-bashing (a personal pet peeve).  A slight issue is that a lot of the book examples given in the article are either cross-over (meaning a book for adults, but marketed as also appealing to teens) or children’s literature.  On the one hand this shows how fluid YA is, but on the other it is kind of confusing for someone who knows little to nothing about the genre.  I mean, I really can’t hate on anything that praises The Mists of Avalon, which by the way, totally stands the test of time and is worth a reread.  Please don’t tell me you never read it, because that is just too sad.

So anyway, this article is worth a read and I totally need to check out The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor.  Can I just point out that I read every other book mentioned in the article?  Oh wait, not Dealing With Dragons.  And I got through like 50 pages of Annie On My Mind.  So maybe not.  Anyway, how about you Em? 

Em: I know you asked me not to tell you, but no, I have not read Mists of Avalon. It never even crossed my radar until they made a mini-series when I was in college and it was on TNT, so I didn’t really take it seriously. Guess I should check it out (the book, I mean)! Anyway, my first reaction to the Fall 2010 Issue was honestly “Oooh! New Poems By Alice Walker!” (see cover). I love her. Upon reading the article, I had a similar reaction to you, Nora. It seemed like many of these titles would not necessarily be found in the YA section of the library or bookstore and it made me question those that I wasn’t aware of (e.g. Dealing With Dragons – middle grade or YA? seems our library system sometimes shelves it with the middle grade books and sometimes in the YA section). But the truth is, I don’t just read YA (and neither do all teens), so a good feminist book suggestion is always fine with me!

Some of the books mentioned in the article that have just moved way up my reading list are Annie on My Mind, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and The Shadow Speaker. Annie on My Mind was recently suggested to me by an LGBT former student (who I also happened to have babysat for during college) who answered my request for LGBT titles that were meaningful to them as a young reader. I’m glad to see from the article that there is an updated cover for this title. I checked a copy out from the library and had to send it back because the original cover design and cover copy just felt too 1980s after school special for me. I was also happy to see Persepolis make the list, even though it is generally classified as adult fiction (graphic novels are as tough to classify as YA). One that I would generally classify as a middle grade reader that made the list is the amazing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I read this title as an adult because growing up I thought it was all about God and as a non-religious youth, assumed that it was probably not for me. One thing I always wonder about this one, is if there could be an updated version which simply replaces the belted feminine products – I wonder if this aspect of the story is confusing to today’s young women going through puberty. I love how this dates the piece (as do my memories of my friends chanting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust”), but I also wonder if it dates it in a way where it loses some of its power with supporting young women.

It is interesting to see how many of these titles would be classified as speculative fiction. Perhaps it’s because, as Libero Della Piana wrote in Colorlines Magazine (Dec. 22, 2002), “the genre allows one to explore other worlds where the ‘laws’ we currently live under, both social and physical, can be challenged or replaced by the creations of the imagination.” He was writing with regards to the potential of speculative fiction as a medium of expression for black writers in particular, but it does seem translatable to feminist writers as well. Speaking of speculative fiction, black writers, and feminist writers, I was happy to see Octavia Butler’s work (Parable of the Sower – which is horrifying dystopian lit and incredibly awesome) in the goodreads list that Stites created to allow readers to vote for their choices of the Best Feminist Young Adult Books. The list is immensely hard for me to vote in because my initial choices are all books that I would not classify as YA, but I want to support them for being some of the best books out there. What’s a YA blogger to do?!

I also ventured to the Ms. Magazine blog where there is a post by Stites called How I Picked 10 Best Feminist Teen Books of All Time. It’s a pretty interesting companion to the magazine article and it mentions Miss Marple and our friends from Bridge to Terabithia, so had me feeling right at home. I also love that she includes a link to the Amelia Bloomer Project, which is my go-to feminist reading list each year. She also raises some interesting questions about YA in the blog – for instance, why are books about young women almost always classified as YA whereas books about young men are considered more suitable/sellable to adults? And should we be concerned that books about young women are only deemed worthy of the adult literature stamp of approval when the character’s sexual abuse is deemed too brutal for young audiences?

Earlier this week, another of our favorite feminist magazines posted on their blog about YA novels featuring trans teens. We have to admit, it has been a good week for YA and feminist lit! Thanks to Ms. Magazine for sending the article preview our way and to Jessica Stites for exploring the amazing world of feminist YA! Be sure to check out the article in the Fall Issue (on newsstands today) and the Ms. Magazine blog post about the process of coming up with Stites’ top ten picks (and the several other titles she sneaked into the article – well played).

9 Responses to “Kick Ass Girls and Feminist Boys”

  1. Erin 26. Oct, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    Nora: Dealing with Dragons was one of my favorites as a teen. Definitely check it out!

    Em: The Mists of Avalon was one of my favorites in college. Definitely check it out!


    It’s funny that two of the few you guys haven’t read are the about only two I have. I need to get cracking!

    • em 28. Oct, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

      A used copy of The Mists of Avalon is on its way to me!

      Also, got a copy of the magazine and love the Alice Walker poems!

  2. mary 29. Oct, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    There is a new revised edition of “Are you there God, it’s me Margaret?” with updated products. No belts are mentioned, which I have to say, even in the eighties that was pretty confusing.

    • em 29. Oct, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

      Good to know! Thanks! I wonder when belts were retired.

  3. Kristie 14. Nov, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    I couldn’t believe they left out two of my favorite feminist titles from the last couple of years: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart and Whip It by Shauna Cross.

    I too thought that author was not an authority on the YA genre or even that well read it in.

    • em 14. Nov, 2010 at 9:42 am #

      I’m listening to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks right now – I need to switch to the book soon because the audio recording is not really doing it for me. Still need to check out Whip It!

  4. Libero 14. Nov, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    Wow. Thanks for quoting my (very) old article on Black Sci-Fi. I love your blog and really appreciate your response to Ms. article.

    Here are two feminist/anti-racist/progressive YA spec fic gems that I haven’t seen mentioned yet (I haven’t seen the Ms. list yet):

    Of course, “the Giver”, by Lois Lowry

    “The Ear, the Eye and the Arm” by Nancy Farmer

    “Enchantress from the Stars” by Sylvia Engdahl

    “Night Sky Mine” by Melissa Scott

    “47” by Walter Mosley

    “Sunshine” by Robin McKinley. Hell, anything by Robin McKinley.

    Plus all the things folks have mentioned, especially or dear departed Octavia Butler.

    I could go on for days, but I won’t.

    Thanks again.

    • em 14. Nov, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

      Thank you for all the suggestions! And thanks for checking out our blog too!

  5. FreddieA 28. Mar, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren.'s_Daughter

    As a child I so often played living alone in the woods just like her. She is brave and honourable (saves a boy from a neigbouring clan from her father’s rage).

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